Nigeria take on Sierra Leone in Freetown in the second leg of their 2021 AFCON qualifiers needing victory to stay on course for early qualification but knowing they go up against a team yet to lose at home in seven years.
Not only are the Eagles faced with the daunting challenge of ending a years-long unbeaten home record, their opponents, the Leone Stars, also boast a psychological edge heading into the game after their Lazarus tribute act in the first leg last Friday.
Nigeria appeared to be romping to a rout when an Alex Iwobi double and strikes from Victor Osimhen and Samuel Chukwueze put them four goals up inside the opening half hour at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium.
But the visitors pulled a goal back minutes before half time before scoring three times in eighteen second half minutes and nearly snatching the win as a stunned Eagles team held on for dear life and a humiliating draw.
The inquest into the Eagles’ catastrophic collapse was swift and brutal with fans of the national team and even the country’s sports minister not holding back in their criticisms of the team and manager Gernot Rohr.
Balogun admits the criticism has stung and while the team’s captain Ahmed Musa issued an apology after the game, the Rangers centre half says his talking will be on the pitch of the Siaka Stevens Stadium.
With Nigerians still smarting from the deflating first leg performance, Balogun understands that only a win will do on Tuesday.
And while the task might be an uphill one given the hosts’ home record, the former Brighton defender says the Eagles are determined to leave Freetown with all three points and restore some national pride after Friday’s debacle.
“I am not the kind of guy that loves to battle on the social media, newspaper or wherever because my job is to battle on the pitch and we are surely going to challenge that record that they hold there,” the 32-year-old told The Punch.
“The goal is to break that unbeaten record obviously. We have something to make up for last night and our job is to make that happen no matter what.
“The team is very determined to makeup and the only thing I want to say is that Nigerians should not give up on the team because mistakes are human.”
Tuesday’s game comes up at 5:00pm Nigerian time and the Super Eagles who lead Group L with seven points can seal qualification for Cameroon with a win if Lesotho drop points at home to Benin Republic in the group’s other game.